False Obedience
Jeremiah 34:8-22
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD…

An incident of the siege of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans. At the first alarm the liberation of the Hebrew slaves was declared and solemnly ratified, according to the sabbatic law, which had long sunk into desuetude. The aim of this was a purely military one, viz. the advantage to be derived from the services of the freedmen in the army, and the removal of disabilities that might occasion disaffection within the walls. Yet an appearance of religion was given to it by the form it was made to assume as connected with the Law, and the solemn rites which were observed. That it was really only a time-serving expedient was shown by the restoration of the state of slavery directly it upreared as if the Chaldeans were going to desist from their purpose.

I. WHEREIN IT DIFFERS FROM TRUE OBEDIENCE. This will consist in the essence of the action, which, being moral, must have to do with motives. The form of the action was religions, but the real aim of it was one of selfish policy. Good people and bad are frequently found doing the same good and proper actions, but events frequently prove that they have acted from the most opposite motives. It was not to glorify God or to benefit the bondmen that the edict was put forth, but simply to advance their own interests and to "serve themselves" in a more effective way of their brethren. When righteousness is immediately and evidently advantageous, there are many who will become formally righteous; and when religion is fashionable, there are many who will be religious. When misdeeds are rectified it is so far a good thing; but that the reform may be real and permanent it must proceed from true repentance, and an earnest desire to serve God and the interests of our fellow men.

II. CONSIDERATIONS DETERMINING THE REAL NATURE OF REPUTED OBEDIENCE. In discovering the true character of reputed obedience it is well to study:

1. The circumstances. Here there were immediate pressure and distress, the existence of a dangerous element in the state, and the possibility of advantages from the military service of the freedmen. The greatest care is requisite in judging of the professions of persons in straitened or perilous circumstances, and to whom religion presents pecuniary, social, or other advantages. The existence of such circumstances affords a presumption against the genuineness of their conversion; and yet it is not of itself conclusive. A better criterion is to be found in:

2. Subsequent conduct. The speedy consignment of the freedmen back again to a state of slavery showed that the observance of the Law was unreal. Actions are ever more eloquent than words. So, when ardent and apparently enthusiastic professions rapidly cool down, and give place to calculating and selfish conduct, we see that the religious movement has had no deep root or has been unreal from its commencement. Death bed repentances are proverbially doubtful, because of the impossibility in most cases of applying this test; nevertheless we are justified in believing that in some cases these are genuine. Prisoners frequently belie their declarations when set at liberty. The subject of false repentance may deceive himself, the emotion being genuine, but the nature not being radically changed. Hence the necessity of insisting upon continued obedience from all who are under the influence of conviction, or who appear to be so.

III. THE PECULIAR OFFENSIVENESS OF FALSE OBEDIENCE. It is not a simple act of transgression, but complex and supremely self-conscious. As on this occasion the Jews were manifoldly sinful in

(1) their breach of faith with God and their fellow countrymen;

(2) in the dishonour they showed to God by lightly regarding the most solemn oath and ordinance; and

(3) in the hypocrisy by which the whole proceeding was characterized; so the false saint is a sinner of the deepest dye. Nor is he at liberty to confine his transgression within definite and foreseen limits; once committed to the false attitude, a repetition and intricate complexity of sin is inevitable. It is, therefore, often a culminating sin.

IV. THE PUNISHMENT OF FALSE OBEDIENCE. (Vers. 17-22.) The penalty inflicted is very terrible and thorough; as if there were no hope for such men to be spiritually renewed again.

1. Exemplary. A curious and instructive parallelism between their crime and its punishment is to be observed: "Behold, I proclaim a liberty for you," and "Their dead bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of the heaven, and to the beasts of the earth." This is in harmony with the didactic and symbolical character of the old dispensation.

2. Thorough and unmitigated. No word of hope or compassion is uttered. An end is to be made of such transgressions.

3. An element of scorn and contempt is discoverable. There is a terrible irony in the words, "I proclaim a liberty for you," etc., which reveal the depth and absoluteness of their curse. The gospel dispensation, as it offers greater privileges and blessings to the truly penitent, is also accompanied with more awful penalties (Hebrews 4:11, 12; Hebrews 6:4-8; Hebrews 10:29; Proverbs 1:26). - M.

Parallel Verses
KJV: This is the word that came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, after that the king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people which were at Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty unto them;

WEB: The word that came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, after that the king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people who were at Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty to them;

A Right Act Done in a Wrong Spirit
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